Yamauba Tying Kintarō’s Topknot

Kitagawa Utamaro Japanese

Not on view

Utamaro created numerous scenes featuring a mother and child. This print is one of more than thirty he made that depict the relationship between Yamauba and her adopted son, Kintarō (or Kintoki), who grew up to be a legendary hero. Here, Yamauba ties Kintarō's topknot while he looks in the mirror and imitates his mother's expression—a gesture that cleverly echoes the role of the mirror.

Humor and parody are central themes in Utamaro's prints, particularly in his depictions of these two sitters. Yamauba, a "mountain nurse," can be recognized by her long face, bushy eyebrows, and unkempt hair. She found the mischievous, ruddy- and round-faced boy in the forest and brought him up. The child disliked Yamauba's mothering and often mocked her tenderness. The close-up view enabled Utamaro to focus on the expressive faces.

Yamauba Tying Kintarō’s Topknot, Kitagawa Utamaro (Japanese, ca. 1754–1806), Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper, Japan

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